Who is responsible for inheritance when someone dies without a will?

In the state of California, if you die without leaving a will, your assets will go to your closest relatives under the state’s intestate succession laws. Usually, this will involve assets that you’re the sole owner of and that are in your name alone. These are referred to as “probate “ assets or property as opposed to “non-probate” assets or property. Non-probate assets will pass to a surviving co-owner or a beneficiary that you’ve named whether or not you have a will. Examples include properties owned in a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship or a life insurance policy.

Next-of-kin relationships are important under the laws of intestate succession in the state of California when it comes to determining the inheritance rights of your heirs if you die without a will in place. Typically, if no marriage or children are involved, then the intestate property passes to the parent(s) of the decedent.

The Intestate Succession Order in California

A decedent’s “heir at law” is determined by California’s intestacy laws and is based on rules of descent and distribution. If the decedent is married at the time of death, then his or her husband/wife is legally entitled to receive the assets and property.

If the decedent is not married, then the intestate succession order in California is as follows:

  • son/daughter
  • mother/father
  • siblings
  • grandfather/grandmother
  • issue of the grandparents — uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins

Community property passes to the surviving spouse unless the decedent is legally separated at the time of his or her death. The decedent’s separate property also passes to the surviving spouse unless children are involved in which case they will receive a portion of the separate property to be divided equally.

If you die without a will and don’t have any family, your property will “escheat” or revert to the State of California.

More information

If you haven’t prepared a will at the time of your death, the laws of intestate succession in California will determine how your estate is distributed among your heirs. Probating an estate without a will can be a lengthy process involving forms that need to be filled out, fees to be paid, required court appearances to attend, inventories taken of assets and property, appraisals to be done, estate taxes to be paid, and the distribution of the your assets and property to your heirs.

It can become an overwhelming process for heirs and beneficiaries to deal with when someone dies without a will in California. Therefore, it’s important to set up a living trust to help avoid the process of intestate succession and probate. The Law Offices of David W. Foley at California Living Trusts can provide expert legal advice about establishing your living trust which allows you to designate how you want your assets to be distributed, to set up healthcare directives, and more.

Contact the Law Office of David W. Foley for advice on issues involving intestate laws in California and probating an estate without a will.

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